Campus Buzz: To Self-Serve or Not to Self-Serve

By Brooke Schultz

Elm Staff Writer

To many students, the dining hall can be a hit or miss – be it the food quality, what food is being served, or even how it’s being served. Someone always has something to say.

In the start of the Fall 2015 semester, the dining hall switched from self-service to assisted-service when distributing the food, which was met with a variety of different reactions. The biggest reason for the change is to keep students healthy, said Director of Dining Services Don Stanwick.

“One of the most common illnesses that goes around college campuses is norovirus,” Stanwick said. Norovirus is a disease that is communicated by touch and is difficult to clean. General heating doesn’t completely get rid of the bacteria, so the items have to be bleached, which then runs the risk of bleach being around the food,” he said. Another deciding factor was that Dining Services received feedback wanting to return to assisted serving.

“We had a lot of calls during the summer. There were several people that were upset about the self-serve, and they wanted to go back to the assisted serving. There’s also people who are very much for self-serving as well. It’s a pretty even split. I would say there’s 25% of the campus that really wants self-serve, 25% really wants them to be served, the other 50% really don’t care one way or another,” he said.

Sophomore Finny Dorsch is served dinner as opposed to getting it himself. The policy change has evoked numerous reactions from students.
Sophomore Finny Dorsch is served dinner as opposed to getting it himself. The policy change has evoked numerous reactions from students.

Stanwick is new to WC, having just started six weeks ago. He previously worked with dining halls at Barry Law School and Stetson University in Orlando and has experience working with K-12 grades in public schools in Chicago. The dining halls in those institutions used assisted-service for students. “Basically, from my past experience and things I saw, just working with other people, seeing some of the feedback we’d gotten from students initially, that [assisted serve] was one of those things that I thought was a good change to make,” he said.

Students can objectively see the benefits but still have negative reactions.

“It makes me really angry, but it is also helpful,” sophomore McKayla Gamino said. Recently, Gamino had to keep a log of the food she consumed for one of her classes. “The proportions were correct when I looked it up online, but I still prefer getting my own food. It’s an independence thing.”

Sophomore Cameron Gilson doesn’t particularly have an opinion on the matter but sees the benefits in the change. “I think it reduces the amount of waste we produce here. I think it’s a good idea, in a way. I know a lot of people have gotten annoyed, saying there’s more wait time in line, and they say that’s causing them a problem, but I don’t really see a difference in the end. You’re basically getting the food you want,” he said.

Sophomore Debashish Goenka took the opposite approach. “I actually prefer self-serve because it’s faster. I don’t have to wait, I don’t have to hand them my plate and wait for them to serve me, and I don’t have to tell them what I want. If I only want certain things in the line, then I can just pick them up myself,” he said.

The dining hall’s previous self-serve policy in action.
The dining hall’s previous self-serve policy in action.

Chef Otis Monroe has been working at the dining hall for 19-20 years, and when he first started working at WC, they always served the students. A couple years ago, they started offering self-service. He said, “Actually, it was pretty cool because what we first saw was…everybody just went crazy and starting grabbing a lot of food, so we were actually losing a lot of money. Then all the sudden, it was just like we were handing the food out. When we had something like chicken tenders or chicken nuggets, people were getting four or five pieces. They were being respectful.”

The sizes of portions and general independence has been a big part in student dissatisfaction for the change to assisted service.

Sophomore Megan Parkhurst said, “I don’t like the assisted service because I feel like I’m burdening the employees there when I have to ask or something. I just like to get it myself because I know how much I want.”

Sean Haynie, senior, agreed about handling the portions, but saw pros and cons to each side, mentioning that the assisted service is more sanitary. “I don’t know if I can prefer one over the other, just because they both have their own benefits. I guess at the end of the day, I’d probably like the self-serve,” he said.

Stanwick is aware of some of the negativity that students may have toward the change, especially for portion sizes. Simply, if you want more or less, just ask. “Part of that [portioning] is in response to the new FDA guidelines that are going to be going out. The new guidelines basically state that all menu items have to show their caloric content, and the caloric content is based on portion sizes,” he said.

Other students just don’t mind, like junior Brian Wilkinson. “I don’t mind at all. I think it’s a lot easier, and a lot more convenient,” he said. He also mentioned that this keeps the area cleaner.

Stanwick is aware students have a multitude of opinions, he wants to involve them more in the process. “I want students to have a lot of say in terms of what they want to see food-wise. The goal is to create a menu committee that I’ll work with SGA on to have so many students be a part of it and help us design menus for the spring semester,” he said. Standwick also mentioned his door is always open and welcomes students to pull him aside and tell him their thoughts.

Monroe agreed. He said, “It’s up to the students. We have an open door policy here. Anyone can come in at any time. We always take suggestions and stuff, and most of the time we try to implement them. Most of the time people – they’re scared of us or something. Why? If people got ideas or anything, bring it on.”

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